The North American Review/Volume 1/Scandal



Presuming that your pages will be open to any hints on the great questions of publick manners and morality, I propose occasionally to send you brief communications on these topicks. One of the most prominent and growing evils of society, seems to me to be the love of scandal. This may in a great degree be attributed to the stagnation and absence of customary, active employment in our cities, during the recent war. The return of peace, among other advantages, may afford such employment for every one in their own concerns, as may force them to relinquish in part the gratuitous interest they have taken in those of others. In the mean time we may gradually acquire more generous habits, and attain to manly feelings by degrees; and in imitation of the tolerant policy of a certain court, where it was one of the rules of an assembly, that no lady should get drunk before nine o’clock; it might be proposed as an incipient step, that no circle of gentlemen should stoop to converse about such mean, insignificant details of occurrences, in private families, as kitchen maids would despise relating. What I wish here to repress, is not censoriousness, but only that idle gossip and mischievous tattling, the natural occupation of ignoble minds in a state of idleness. The breed of censorious people are by far too useful to be destroyed; like the turkey buzzards of Carolina, who, devouring the carrion of the cities, preserve them from pestilence; so this class is equally useful and pleasing, and by preying on all the moral offences of society, serve to keep it from contamination. Voltaire has remarked, “that it is difficult to know how to act with the publick; there is no way of pleasing it during one’s life time, but by being profoundly unfortunate.” Yet this will not always do; the terriers of scandal will not give up the scent while life remains, but pursue the victim into the most lonely and obscure retreats, in which wretchedness can seek to shelter itself in obscurity and oblivion. I will not date the place from whence I write this letter; I fear it will apply to many. Happy and singular indeed would be the condition of that country, which was degraded by only one scandal-loving city.